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SWIM THERAPY

Mis à jour : sept. 15

Savoir nager…


Qu’est-ce que c’est ?


Est-ce se déplacer 25 mètres dans l’eau sans matériel ?

Est-ce exécuter les mouvements de brasse, de crawl, de papillon ?


Ou est-ce autre chose ?


Moi, ce que je veux c’est être tranquille dans l’eau. Peu importe si j’ai pied. Peu importe si le bord de la piscine est près ou loin de moi. Je veux juste être là, dans l’eau, sans avoir peur.


Pendant quatre ans, plusieurs profs ont essayé de m’apprendre les mouvements de nage. Ils pensaient que si je maîtrisais les mouvements, la peur serait vaincue. Et bien, c’est difficile de maîtriser quelconque mouvement quand on est figé au bord du bassin grâce à cette peur.


“T’as peur de quoi ? Rien ne peut t’arriver. Tu as la frite et je suis là.”


Oui, mais comme mon autre prof avant elle, elle ne venait pas dans l’eau avec moi - comme si venir dans l’eau avec l’élève c’était tricher.


Je suis restée figée, sauf pour les tremblements de mon corps. L’eau était beaucoup trop froide. Peut-être que l’on pensait que cela forcerait les élèves à se bouger.


“Tout est là,” on m’a dit encore et encore, en indiquant la tête. “Tout est mental.”


Mais après, comment gérer ce qui est mental ?


“C’est une question de confiance.” Si on fait des choses, on gagne en confiance. Donc si on pratique les mouvements de nage, on gagnerait en confiance et la peur disparaîtrait. Peut-être que c’est le cas avec d’autres choses. Pas avec la natation.


Mais, cela a marché avec d’autres personnes. Pourquoi pas moi ? C’est moi le problème. Je suis nulle.


Mais, je n’étais pas seule.


More people are afraid of the water than I’d thought, even those who can technically do some laps. All those schools and instructors who boast about everyone learning to swim - I wonder just with what criteria they’re measuring their successes?

I’m not sure exactly how I found Miracle Swimming. I stumbled upon it years ago, because I was trying to immerse myself - both in learning how to swim and in learning how to speak French. The swimming classes themselves were not going well, though I was happy to have an activity in French. On the side, I looked up things I could read and videos I could watch, preferably in French. Miracle Swimming was in English, but its teaching philosophy struck a chord in me so I made an exception.


I was dismayed to find that their classes were in Florida (a bit too far from Geneva, Switzerland) and out of my price range. I got their e-book Conquer Your Fear of Water, and I continued to watch videos in French and in English, take lessons and practice with friends. I got comfortable using the pool noodle and the kick board (and I loved the arm floats when I could ignore my embarrassment of using them like the babies in the pool), but as soon as I was in water without aids, even in shallow water, I would become too scared to let go of the wall.

Fast forward a couple of years, five professional teachers, and countless attempts by friends using both harsh and gentle-but-still-scary-to-me methods to teach me to swim. No matter what, trying anything new without material or going to deep water with material made panic rise from my stomach to my chest and then up my throat until I wanted to scream to get it out. My head felt spacey and I was ready to pass out. No matter what my intentions or what I knew or how I felt, I couldn’t stop this physical reaction from occurring.

And then came the lockdown and with it, I thought, disappeared any hope of making progress. Then I received an email that Melon Dash, founder of Miracle Swimming, would be hosting online classes for getting over the fear of water. I would be able to talk directly to the author of Conquer Your Fear of Water! I signed up right away. I knew how it would sound to everyone else - How can you have a swimming class without going to the pool? I hope you’re not paying for this - but I didn’t care. I knew this was what I needed - I’d always felt that there wasn’t enough talking in swimming lessons, that the teachers moved on to action without understanding what kind of instruction the student needed. In some ways, I understood. No one wants to pay for a swimming lesson just to stand around talking.


But without talking, without reflecting on your experiences, how are you supposed to learn? One of my previous swim teachers had said, you don’t think with words to learn to swim, you respond with your body. But if your body’s response is to freeze or thrash in panic because of a mental block, how do you address that? Teachers would say I’m trop tendue or crispée and tell me to relax. But you can’t force yourself to feel something you don’t actually feel. And relaxed is not something you can do, it’s something you have to be.


And that’s exactly what Miracle Swimming says too. Be-do-have. “From the way you ‘be’ comes the things you do, and from the things you do come the results you have.” Traditional teaching follows do-have-be. That you make yourself do things, see (have) the results, and that makes you “be” something - in this case, a swimmer.

One of the things another former teacher tried to do was show how deep water was “no different” from shallow water. You don’t swim at the bottom, he said, you swim at the surface. He seemed to imply that if I could feel the water holding me up, I would stop being afraid.


What I was scared of was not sinking, but that I wouldn’t be able to rest. If I took my feet off the floor, would I be able to put them back down when I needed to? If I let go of the wall, would I be able to grab onto it when I wanted to? I have experienced what it’s like when the answer is no. Loss of balance, one leg doesn’t come down, flailing and falling over and over into the water, gasping, inhaling water, swallowing water, not knowing when I would regain control. So a lot of times when the instructor would ask me to do something, my feet would stay glued to the ground.


At one point during the online classes, Melon said we could float on our backs to rest. The idea took me completely by surprise. For me a float was something else to work on, same as kicking or breathing. A float had to be held. Coming out of a float was rest. Putting my feet on the floor was rest. Reaching the wall and holding onto it was rest. When Melon described a float as no work at all, I realized I’d never done a proper float. What I had managed to do was to stay horizontal on the water’s surface, then the teacher would say okay and move on to other things. Now I see owning the float as the basis of everything else in the water. If I could do that, I could see myself not being afraid anymore.


Miracle Swimming taught me to go slowly. The lessons were much like the way one should be in the water. Much slower than on land. No thrashing or sudden, jerky movements. Flow. Glide. Be. And don’t skip any steps. Melon had to say that one over and over. Swimming teachers would move on quickly to other things, and students also are impatient to be able to show off new skills. I put my head in the water. Done. What’s next? But Melon made us slow down and notice every little thing. And we had time - 3 hours of class without access to a pool.


The online classes were held once a week on Saturday - 4pm to 7pm for me, 10am to 1pm for those on the East coast of the U.S., and 7am to 10am for those on the West coast. The class started with us telling the story of how we first became afraid of the water. In subsequent weeks, we would start by recounting any experiences in the water between classes (the bathtub for most of us). Then we would share our responses to the assigned readings in the student handbook and ask any questions. A lot of times the readings would trigger memories and strong emotions related to experiences in the water. We each got to share at length such memories and feelings. It was the opposite of the brief chat before a traditional swim lesson. Not only were we able to talk as much as we needed, but we also responded to each other. The effect was profoundly cathartic. I felt so relieved, so understood, and finally, so relaxed. No wonder I couldn’t swim in classes before, I’d been entering the water with so much baggage!


The last hour of class was a mental visit to the pool. We would visualize walking into the pool, a very shallow pool with very warm water. Melon would direct our attention to every detail. Like the expression on our faces. Before that I’d never noticed how tense my face was in the water. Once I did notice, it relaxed itself. I’d also never opened my eyes underwater before. After one such visualization, I tried it in the bathtub and I noticed that my eyes were opened very wide. Once I opened them normally, it was no longer uncomfortable. I’ve since been able to open them underwater in the pool and look around.


During one of the lessons, I mentioned that I didn’t like putting my ears in the water, but that once they were under, I was fine. Melon asked what it was that I didn’t like. The wetness? Did it tickle? I’d never paid enough attention to find out. This is what she meant by not skipping any steps. Going slowly enough to notice everything. I redid the experiment in the water and realized it tickled as my ears went in. It’s something that doesn’t bother me anymore.


If I had been taught with this method to begin with, I never would have had those negative experiences in the water that now hold me back. But thanks to these online classes, I now have the tools to undo them and to create new, positive experiences in the water. There is still a lot of learning to do - the lessons aren’t internalized once and for all. I have to remind myself of them time and again. To go into the water without any expectations. To go slowly and only do things that are fun. To not push myself out of my comfort zone. To understand that this is the way to learn, to make progress.


REPORTS FROM THE POOL - these are from emails I sent to Melon once pools opened and I could try out what we’d done during visualizations.


26 June - I went to an outdoor pool. It starts at around 2 feet of depth and at its deepest end is still slightly below the shoulder for me. The water is not as warm as in my favorite pool but still warmer than the Olympic pool. I told myself I wasn't going to do anything that didn't sound like fun and that I didn't have any goals other than staying in the first circle. I reread your email "When you go to the pool" and repeated "Be-Do-Have" to myself on the way there. It was raining by the time I got changed and into the pool, even though the forecast until that day had predicted hot, sunny weather. I used the kick board to do a few laps across the pool to warm myself up. Then I went to the shallowest end where there are a few stairs. I took off my swim cap and goggles and twisted my hair up. Then I held the railing and lowered myself into a sitting position. I noticed that it didn't bother me to wet my hair or (surprise!) to get my ears in. In the bathtub, the water tickled my ears and I clamped my hands over them and uncovered them once underwater. This time, getting my ears wet didn't bother me. Then I opened my eyes. Everything was so blue and blurry. But it didn't hurt or bother me. When I got the urge to rub the water out of my eyes, I resurfaced and wiped my face. Then I did a few more laps with the kick board to warm up again. I returned to try a front float, keeping my goggles on because I didn't want to be worried about opening my eyes or needing to wipe them. I did a few holding onto the wall, then I put one hand on the stairs in front of me, and once I was comfortable with the idea, put both hands down. I realized I was still making an effort to hold myself up. Once I noticed all the tense areas in my body, they started to melt away ;) And for the first time, I did a front float with no work on my part! My arms were just hanging down; I couldn't see where my feet were but they were not at the surface and not touching the floor either.


With the back float I had a bit more trouble. I couldn't just lie back comfortably as I'd imagined. My hips kept sinking even though I wasn't trying to keep my feet up. When I tried to lie back, my body would form a V and I'd find my face going underwater. So I breathed out from my nose, let myself sink to a sitting position and got back up. I realized I wasn't fully there (in my body, in the first circle). In the front float, my body had floated away from the wall and stairs a little bit, and I was worried about that happening with the back float. I went to do a few more front floats, this time in the middle of the pool where it was a little deeper, but using the stepladder. As I'd read in your book, I clasped my hands behind the pole. I wasn't touching anything, but I didn't have to worry about floating away or not being able to stand up. I just grabbed the pole and then put my feet down. A short while later, I was too cold to stay in the pool (it had been raining all this time); even laps with the kick board weren't helping so I got out before I could try the back float again.


The session made it clearer than ever that what scares me is the buoyancy (go figure!); it feels like a loss of control, and it makes me afraid that I won't be able to put my feet down and stop when I need or want to. In my previous classes and swim practice, that's exactly what had happened - I had tried to “unfloat,” one foot came down, the other was still waving around, I lost balance and fell, and I couldn't get back up when I wanted to. I was gasping for breath, then snorting and swallowing water then falling again. It makes me scared to get started, because I'm afraid I won't know how to stop. I think I'm going to slow down even more - as much as it is possible in water that is not warm enough!


Overall I'm pleased with the first visit to the pool; I had your voice from the meditations in my head to guide the steps I was going to take. Even though the fear is still there, for the first time, I feel like I know what healing steps to take. I'm rereading your book and planning my next outings ;)


29 June - I went to the pool yesterday and today - my favorite one has reopened! I spent about an hour each time between the beach entrance and up to where it reaches 2 feet. First, I walked around the pool holding the wall, putting my face in, looking around - the things we always did in the beginning of the visualizations. The rest of the time I just moved around in the two foot area, feeling the water. I would curl myself into a ball and bob around, then extend to a front float, then kick my feet or move my arms in an arc. I love gliding through the water - when I can see that the bottom is about a foot away from my face :P My instructor was there - one on one courses are not allowed yet but he was on patrol duty and came to see how I was doing. I explained that I was trying to do a back float that felt like "doing nothing" but it wasn't working. He told me my head wasn't tilted back - my chin was going more toward my chest - and that my shoulders were tense and scrunched up toward my ears - apparently I wasn't as relaxed as I thought I was! And here I thought I was in my body, completely paying attention! Once I totally relaxed, I floated! I still can't unfloat as well from a back float; no matter what, my feet come up first and I let myself sink down and then stand up. But these are some of the happiest times I've had in the pool. Toward the end of the hour, I moved farther into the pool - still 2 feet, but it was a consistent two feet as opposed to the beach entrance. I let myself glide backwards on my back from the flat two feet area toward the beach entrance, and then just stay on my back floating. I'm not quite there, where I feel as restful in the back float as I do standing up, but it's getting there.


6 July - My last session at the pool started off not so great. I just didn’t feel into it. Then I realized it was because my head was saying, “Really, you’re just going to walk around, sit down and then move around in the two foot end? Do something else already.” I took my pool noodle and tried to kick forward on my stomach and return on my back, but I stopped before reaching the deep end of the shallow pool (where I’m on my tiptoes and the water reaches my chin). I got frustrated. Then I reminded myself that “doing stuff” wasn’t the goal but to stay in the first circle. I told myself that I didn’t care if I did “nothing,” it would still be better than staying at home. I went back to “puttering.” Then I did the ball, front float and back float in two feet. Then I backed up to three feet and propelled myself toward the beach entrance on my stomach several times, then on my back several times. I always let myself float once I’d finished gliding. Once on my back, where I was floating in star position, I barely thought “I’d like to turn onto my stomach,” and AUTOMATICALLY without me thinking, my body responded by bringing one arm to my side and the other over my head and I just flipped over to a front float. I’ve never done something in the water before without consciously trying! It felt so great! The reverse is not happening yet though (front to back flip). I also tried something else my instructor had taught me. In two feet of water, I kneeled at the wall with my feet against it and arms over my head and propelled myself downward while pushing off the wall (the opposite wall of the beach entrance was like 3 meters away). I glided very close to the floor then felt myself rising. When the glide finished I moved my arms in arc movements to get to the wall. It was a mini version of what I used to watch in awe when swimmers would jump into the pool, descend and glide for a long distance without effort, then rise and swim the rest of the way to the other end. I loved the feeling and did it as many times as I could before little ones arrived and hogged “my end” of the pool :P


To be continued…

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